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Women and Education | #BringBackOurGirls

President’s Blog
May 15, 2014

Last week, the women of the Garrett-Evangelical community gathered to enjoy  “Just Desserts,” a late afternoon tea that celebrates our graduating women each year.  The Myrtle Saylor Speer award recipients were announced and we applauded those three graduating women recognized by their peers as “Outstanding Women in Ministry.”  Myrtle had visited our campus many, many years ago and won the affection of the few female students enrolled at that time.  Through incredible persistence, she finally became the first ordained female elder in Missouri. The award named in her honor was first given in 1977 to Rev. Dr. Marti Scott.  

The small number of women seeking formal theological education needed a lot of support in those days, so Mrs. Vera Watts, a former academic registrar, began hosting the tea for those who had managed to “run the race set before them.”  It was a time of rejoicing, a time to recognize accomplishments completed, and a time for a lot of good humor, e.g., clever hymn verses were written for each graduating woman. 

NIGERIA-master675As I went to Just Desserts, I was also acutely aware of the over 300 Nigerian school-girls and young women who were abducted on April 14 by the Boko Haran “terrorist network.”  And, why were these girls abducted?  Because they were seeking education within a culture where some believe that girls, as young as age 9 should be married “out” and live their lives as the “slaves” they are believed to be.  I remain haunted and sickened by what these young girls are enduring as they have likely been taken out of the country and sold into “marriage.”  I cannot imagine the anguish and anger their parents must be experiencing.

From yet another vantage point, I think of visiting Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea last fall.  It is the largest women’s university in the world with approximately 25,000 female students.  The Ewha school was founded in 1886 by Mary Scranton, an American Methodist Episcopal missionary, who held a deep conviction about the need to educate women.  College courses were introduced in 1910 and the university was established in 1945.  So controversial was the idea of women’s education that only one young student showed up on the first day of classes.  But Scranton persevered and today there is a medical school for women only, a business school for women only, a law school for women only, a theology school for women only, and these in addition to other graduate and undergraduate programs – for women only.

In the United States, we enjoy a broad cultural assumption that men and women not only need to be educated, but also have a right to education.  As we prepare to celebrate our 157th commencement at the seminary, I wonder if we take it a little too much for granted.  I think of the education I so freely pursued and the education Garrett-Evangelical continues to provide for so many women. 

So when we learn of the Nigerian kidnapping as a response to young girls pursuing education, we are horrified not only by the violence, but also by the rationale.  Perhaps most difficult of all is the helplessness we feel to intervene in any way that would be immediately gratifying and that would give us some sense of agency and of making a difference for justice, recovery, and healing.  We believe we are called to action - “If you have done it unto the least of these . . .” So, we have had a “Stand up for women” campaign and a hash tag picture taking initiative.  The mothers of these girls and many others take to the streets to protest what seems a completely inadequate response of the Nigerian government.  And, the United States is finally allowed to assist. 

But I confess that in the extreme circumstances of something like the Nigerian kidnapping, I cannot help but question if it is a lack of faith that makes the idea of praying feel less than satisfactory.  I ask, “Whatever is the world coming to?” and “Where, oh where, could God be in this?”  It all seems so impossibly hopeless that, ironically, I am absolutely driven to pray with all my heart for the safe return of these girls, even as I am compelled to continue supporting women’s rights and their education.  And, no longer take for granted the privilege of educating men and women, leaders who will graduate from Garrett-Evangelical to work for the well being of all persons.  In the midst of such violence in the world and such radical disregard for the safety of even a child, perhaps it is enough an act of faith to say, “I believe; help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

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